First, Bill Cosby showed society his inner flaws.
More recently, Geoffrey Owens — a co-star of Cosby’s on his eponymous hit sitcom from the 1980s and 90s — showed society its own inner flaws.
Owens — who played a supporting role as Cosby’s son-in-law Elvin Tibideaux on “The Cosby Show” — not only is a graduate of Yale University, but also was on the blockbuster show from 1985 to 1992. When the show’s run came to an end, so did the steady work for Owens. Much like pretty much every other cast member (save for Cosby himself), he was typecast for the remainder of his career.
He was able to find acting jobs here and there, but nothing steady. It’s hard to find work as, say, the killer in the next big horror movie, when casting directors — and the public in general — see you as nothing more than the affable Elvin. Sure, he made tremendous money while working on one of the biggest hit shows of a generation, but that was 26 years ago. Eventually, the money came to an end.
His income took another hit more recently when Cosby ran into his legal issue, at which point money networks pulled the show’s reruns, causing the residuals he had been receiving to dry up as well.
So, with a family to feed, what did Owens do next? Did he fall into despair? Did he go the route of many former child stars and turn to drugs or alcohol. Did he became a tragic case, a tale of “what not to do?”
No, he went out and got a job.
In an effort to provide for his family, Owens — rather than let his life become a shambles — got a job bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey. Sure, he probably could have used his Yale degree to find a different career field, but he had hoped to find something to help make ends meet while continuing to pursue his true passion, which remains acting.
Seems like a pretty noble thing to do, right?
Well, apparently, not for some folks.
After working for roughly 15 months at Trader Joe’s, Owens was photographed bagging groceries by a tabloid, which subsequently ran the photos. As is usually the case with such things, social media backlash against Owens for — gasp! — holding down a job some seemed to feel made him somehow lesser was swift, cruel and unrelenting.
People literally made fun of the man for taking a job that helped him feed his family. He was deemed a “fallen star” for taking a manual labor job and putting in an honest day’s work.
Seems to me as though the only thing that’s “fallen” in any of this is our standards for ourselves as a society. When did it become wrong for someone to take a job — any job — that pays money for its completion? I thought that was the sort of thing our country prided itself upon, the ability to take a few hits in life and battle back from the brink through sheer force of will and determination.
Nah … I guess it’s probably just easier to make fun of someone else than to apply those same standards to ourselves.
Of course, this story probably resonates a little more with me because I, too, have experienced “job shaming” (sad that we even had to invent this phrase to describe one of our societal foibles) in my career. Several years ago, I received an email from a delightful reader after I had written something with which he apparently disagreed.
He sent me an email voicing his displeasure, letting me know that the article I had written was a perfect example of “why you’ve never gotten any further in your career than the Troy Daily News.” I guess he was somehow implying that a lack of ability to do my job had someone kept me from working at a major metropolitan newspaper or magazine.
I was angry at first, but have since come to find humor in his email. This man had never met me and knows nothing about me. Which only means he couldn’t possibly have known I currently am in the only job I’ve ever wanted to have since I was in high school. For me, “bigger and better” always has been right outside my front door. This is the community I want to live in and the high school teams, athletes and coaches I cover as a sports writer make up the beat I’ve always wanted.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course. I take great pride in what I do. Owens does, too. Since the initial furor has subsided, it’s been replaced by love and support. He can hold his head high.
As should anyone who simply wants to work for a living.
David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong